Let there be light

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Autumn. Love the light. Adore the colors. Orange, yellow and their many variations attract attention and at the same time distract, taking the focus off pink. October is pink month and everywhere I look is the message to “Think Pink.” It is Breast Cancer Awareness month lest I forget. Billboards, sports teams clad in bright pink uniforms, magazine ads, email…the advertising is phenomenal. Ironically I was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago this very month so I’d be lying if I said the increased pinkiness of October doesn’t invoke some anxiety. Associating a color with a disease has been uber successful from a marketing standpoint but it is also annoying. However…I’ll stay off my soapbox for now and tackle this subject another day.

Meanwhile I ‘m warding off pink by cooking with a lot of orange and green.  Various orange-fleshed squashes, leafy greens, brussel sprouts and raabs are among the veggies I’m bringing home from the market.  Mollie Katzen’s new cookbook The Heart of the Plate is my latest inspiration. Call it my book of the month as each time I’ve turned to a cookbook this month, The Heart of the Plate has been it. Every recipe I’ve made so far, I would make again.

But I am not surprised. Katzen’s older books, The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, still sit prominently on my kitchen book shelf and near and dear to my heart. Stained pages and scribbled notes offer fond memories of time spent in my various kitchens here, and in Asia where I often had to substitute ingredients because they weren’t available in the local markets.  I earned my chops on recipes like Sri Wasano’s Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad, Ratatouille, Hungarian Mushroom Soup, Spanokopita and even Chocolate Pudding. And how can I forget Variations on a Cream of Tomato as I tried to recreate the best tomato soup I had ever tasted, which was in a restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan.

Occasionally I pull out these earlier books for reference but rarely cook from them anymore. They are from an era of vegetarian cooking when vegetables often played a supporting role to other ingredients…such as cheese and cream.   These ingredients may have made vegetarian cooking more palatable at the time but tastes have evolved.  These days it is all about savoring the actual vegetables.  Hence, The Heart of the Plate, which features recipes where vegetables shine. Nothing gets lost deep in a casserole. Recipes are light, fresh, and most are surprisingly quick to prepare.

No less than 20(!!) recipes have already graced my kitchen from this delicious new cookbook.  To name a few: Curried Cauliflower Stew, a vibrant yellow and orange entree, flavorfully sates a hearty appetite. Crunchy Tofu Noodles are a cinch to make and  perfect for introducing tofu to a non-tofu eater.  The Gazpacho Salad mentioned in my previous post, highlights the last of the tomato harvest. Bitter radicchio offers a refreshing bite in Radicchio Salad with Oranges and Pistachios, a salad sure to be on our Thanksgiving menu this year and the recipe I am choosing to link below.

I could go on and list the other recipes I have tried but it is better that you take a look at the book yourself. I might make a few substitutions here and there and tweak some ingredient amounts, but overall The Heart of the Plate is one of the best vegetarian/vegan books I’ve come across lately. It has captured my attention this month and I am thankful.

Radicchio Salad with Oranges and Pistachios

http://www.molliekatzen.com/recipes/recipe.php?id=1029

I have made this salad exactly as it reads and I have also prepared it several times substituting thinly sliced lacinato kale for the romaine. The romaine is lighter and a little sweeter in taste; the kale is heartier (chewier) and more nutritious. Both are equally tasty and attractive. Take a cue from the other dishes to be served with the salad and choose the green you will use accordingly.

Katzen is a cook, writer and artist.  Her cooking talent is reason enough to enjoy The Heart of the Plate. But she also charms us with whimsical illustrations and helpful kitchen/cooking  advice, reminiscent of her earlier cookbooks. New, from what I remember, is the inclusion of photos sprinkled throughout the book providing visuals for comparing your own results.